News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 3, 2013

Business dean: Partnering with education vital

Austin Arceo
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Businesses must forge stronger partnerships with education to improve the growing workforce skills gap, Indiana State University’s business dean told members of the local business community.

Brien Smith, dean of the Scott College of Business, suggested to the Groundhog Day Economic Forecast audience that such partnerships would help improve the skills of the workforce that they will need in the future. The forecast event, which was sponsored by Indiana State and the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, featured speakers to discuss different aspects of the economy at the local, state and national level.

Gerry Dick, an Indiana State graduate and president and managing editor of Grow Indiana Media Ventures, referenced a statistic that indicated in five years, more than two-thirds of all jobs in the U.S. will require an education beyond a high school diploma, which Smith referenced in his subsequent comments to the audience.

“For all of you, the skills gap is coming, and you know what that means for your industry, for your job, for your company …,” Smith told the crowd. “So I challenge all of you, let’s all work together. Let’s connect the dots.”

During the event, Dick said that, in Northeast Indiana, only 35 percent of residents have an education beyond a high school diploma.

There are “lots of examples of how difficult it is for companies to find employees around the state with technical skills, but also softer skills: communication skills, showing up for work on time, being able to work in teams, those types of things,” he said.

Speakers also provided insights for the coming year. Robert Guell, professor of economics at Indiana State, predicted that the economy will continue to “slog along” in 2013, likely growing at least 2.5 percent, with a chance that it might grow slightly more.

“Going forward, I think things are looking up …,” Guell said. “The election solved many uncertainties, and uncertainty itself, I think was a particular” problem.

The economy also is improving locally, Guell said, with manufacturing faring much better than other sectors. Still, the unemployment rate in Terre Haute has exceeded the state and national rates for more than a decade, he said.

Guell explained that Terre Haute experienced two recessions in 2000s: the Great Recession, and another recession that started when Pfizer announced it was halting operations in 2007.

Other local indicators have improved as well. Brian Conley, owner and president of Conley Real Estate Appraisals, told the audience that four of the five real estate market indicators he analyzes showed improvement over 2012, with the fifth indicator staying even with last year.

“Last year, I said it’s like ‘Groundhog Day.’ I hate coming talking about how it’s been flat,” Conley said. “It’s really nice to come and say things are getting better.”

Yet not everything was positive. Guell told the audience that, in the job growth following the Great Recession, the retail sector has remained dismal. He also said an increasing number of college students “are either not graduating, or living at home, or when we pull into Starbucks, [are] earning tips on lattes rather than commissions on sales.”

“It is a really scary phenomenon,” Guell said, “especially in light of what Gerry said about the skills” gap.

Guell’s presentation was part of The Community Semester, which focuses on the theme “Our Town” and is a way for the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana State to showcase what it does best and to encourage faculty and students to share what they are learning to the community.

People in attendance at the Groundhog Day Forecast didn’t have to look far to learn more about collaborating with the Scott College of Business. One of the informational fliers that people could review as they sat down included a notice of the “Meet the Dean” community business reception the Scott College will host later this month.

“Sometimes we can’t do much about inflation or the price of oil,” Smith told the crowd, “but we can solve problems that are local to our community.”